West’s Idea of No Nukes Doesn’t Include Itself (Part 4)

Cross-posted from Truthout.

(Read Parts 1, 2, and 3.)

We decided to ask authorities on arms control and/or disarmament this two-part question implied by Ford’s summary of the credibility thesis:

One, do you agree that nuclear-weapons states, especially the United States, have yet to show non-nuclear-weapons enough in the way of disarmament to convince them that the nonproliferation waters are safe? Two, do you think that, were the disarmament measures of NWS sufficient, some non-NWS would still seek nuclear weapons? If so, what then is the best route to nonproliferation?

Michael Krepon, co-founder of the Stimson Center and regular contributor to the respected blog Arms Control Wonk rejects the premise of the first question. “The United States and Russia,” he replies, “have reduced their nuclear stockpiles by 70%. Is this not ‘substantive disarmament’?”

Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and the founder of Arms Control Wonk also does not “agree that the United States has done too little to convince NPT signatories that the nonproliferation waters are safe.” In fact, he thinks that the “frame that you’ve chosen is a straw-person that right-wing opponents impute to those of us who would seek a world where the growing obsolescence of nuclear weapons is reinforced by the legally-binding agreements.”

Besides, he reminds us, the NPT is not “a bargain between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ — it is a commitment by the ‘have nots’ to one another to remain that way. Who do North Korea’s nuclear weapons threaten most? The United States? Or non-nuclear Japan and South Korea? … the agreement among the non-nuclear weapons states to remain that way — is either forgotten or obscured in many of these debates.”

However, Lewis does believe “that the United States can, and should, do more to demonstrate its commitment to Article 6. In particular, the United States should ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.”

Greg Theilmann is a senior fellow of the Arms Control Association. First, he states that my characterization of the New START treaty as “‘little more than verification and confidence building” does not do it justice. Then, he writes: “Although I would have preferred deeper cuts, restoring and improving on a verification regime for the two parties’ strategic forces was a critical prerequisite for any subsequent steps.” He also relates a little-known story about New START that casts the president in a more resolute light.

Moreover, what I find especially impressive about Obama’s determination was his rejection of his political advisors’ advice in late November 2010 (according to Rahm Emanuel) that he postpone New START ratification in the lame duck session because it was too difficult and jeopardized other political objectives. Had he done so, I believe the treaty would never have been ratified.

Whether non-NWS would be as quick to credit the president is another matter. Continuing with question one, Thielmann states that the Obama Administration has “demonstrated its NPT Article VI bona fides during the last three years.” Its “positions and efforts on shrinking the role of nuclear weapons, on endorsing CTBT ratification, and on leading an international campaign to achieve nuclear security improvements put it at the forefront of the nuclear weapons states on disarmament.”

Thielmann concedes that non-NWS “want to see more done to reduce nuclear arsenals by the U.S., Russia, China, the UK, and France — as do I.” He’s also willing to answer the question of whether some non-NWS would still seek nuclear weapons even if they deemed NWS disarmament measures sufficient. While, he writes, the disarmament “thus far is significant … in and of itself, [it] will not be sufficient to satisfy those states, which see their own nuclear weapons development as necessary for security or desirable to enhance influence.”

Taking up where Thielmann left off, Ward Wilson, who directs the Rethinking Nuclear Weapons project at the James Martin Center, notes that “nuclear weapons have become a currency of power in international relations. Irrespective of their actual utility, they are perceived as the key to great power status. Before proliferation can be definitively halted, not only do nuclear-armed states have to do better at disarming, but the belief that nuclear weapons are the sine qua non of international status has to be broken.”

Wilson concludes:

Disarmament progress was nil during the first twenty years of the NPT but since then there has been real, if painfully slow, progress. Even if disarmament progress were faster, however, some states would still want to proliferate. Disarmament by nuclear-armed states is a necessary, but not sufficient condition to halt proliferation.